In working up an image, the first thing I always do is to sketch the idea, in part to crystallise my thoughts but also to create a usable layout. This is particularly helpful with scaling and positioning. I also scribble notes on the layout for future reference. To capture the original images, a kind friend allowed me the use of his pool and another (yes I have two friends!) loaned me a Nikonos underwater camera. It was obvious that the most difficult image was going to be that of the little girl struggling in the water, so that’s where I started.
I came across a talented little girl with helpful parents and dug out my old diving apparel, and put some extra lead on the weight belt because I’d have to be sitting on the bottom at the deep end of the pool. Because it’s been a while since I shot underwater, on the day before photographing the girl, I did a test roll of my friend in the pool at the same time of day, got the film processed, and checked the results. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. I’d already scouted an aquarium and done some test shots there so I knew what sort of lighting I’d have to match.
Examining the processed transparencies of the girl in the pool, I found several that I liked, and went off to a couple of aquariums to get some sharks. Watching the lighting constantly, I shot eight rolls of film which yielded about six likely candidates. This may not seem much from so many takes but the light levels were low and of course sharks move constantly so it was tricky getting them sharp, totally in focus, with the right expression and in a correctly lit, appealing pose.
To achieve a photo realistic effect it’s important to match lighting, camera angle and lens angle of view. For example, if the image element is going to be a small part of the composition, then it’s appropriate to use a longer focal length lens. In this case however, all the elements would be approximately the same size and I wanted the immediacy that a wide angle lens would give so I used a 35 mm lens for the sharks and a 28 mm lens on the Nikonos underwater camera. Water refracts light differently so that the 28 mm lens under water is roughly equivalent to a 35 mm lens above the water.
Usually I order drum scans for full image outputs to transparency film at high resolution, but in this case each scan would contribute only a small part to the total composite so it was possible to make considerable cost saving by having all the scans done on Kodak Professional Photo CD.
In Adobe Photoshop, I acquired the images as RGB flies of about 18 MB, but cropped to the essential area, using Kodak’s Photo CD Acquire module. This is one of the best methods for acquiring Photo CD images and I recommend it.
It’s a little known fact that this piece of software is now available free from the Kodak web site.
COLOUR CORRECTIONS and MASKING
The key picture of the girl was acquired first and the others adjusted to suit it. Since the major work was to match the sharks’ color to that of the girl, Hue Shift was employed first. This kept the density and contrast values constant while changing the hues only, allowing me to tinker with each image till the hue was just right. After this some separate adjustment to contrast was also made.
The masking was done by firstly making a selection with the Paths tool and then using a variety of brushes in Photoshop’s Quick Mask mode. A selection of another shot with a nice collection of bubbles was also acquired. A mask was applied to exclude all but the lightest parts of the shot; that is the actual bubbles, so that they could later be easily applied over the shark shots.
I often do such composites completely in Photoshop, but because I knew things were going to get complicated and a relatively large file (90 MB) was required, I chose to do the rest of the work in my old favourite, Live Picture. So, finally all the prepared scans together with their masks were saved in Live Picture’s proprietary Ivue format.
The first step in Live Picture was to roughly place each of the seed images in position. A watery background was created by selecting some of the colors in the insert images and applying them in one of Live Picture’s unique four corner gradients. This was then “built out” to a large Ivue file with four percent noise added to emulate the film grain in the other insert shots. The watery background layer was then incorporated behind the top section of the composite.
A Color Correction layer was used in the water above the girl to more realistically match the other water areas. Unfortunately, in the best image of the girl on the roll, I’d cropped off her right leg. I kick myself when I see these things, but a little digital dabbling can solve these problems. To remedy this, the left leg was cloned, masked, repositioned and edges smoothed. Now that you know this, you’ll see that she has two left feet, but it probably wouldn’t be noticeable otherwise. To disguise this fact somewhat, a layer of bubbles was used to partially cover the foot.
The notion of spatial separation was created by inserting a layer of bubbles between various players in the picture. I used the one set of bubbles over and over, changing the size each time, to make them look different.
To help unify the composite, a streak layer was added to simulate streaks of light passing through the ocean water. Streaks were also incorporated into a section for the bottom of the shot that represent the dark abyss below. This section was built out to an Ivue file with noise and then incorporated into the final comp. After darkening this with a Color Correction Layer, a Sharpen Layer was applied to the whole comp. When doing photo manipulation it’s always best to sharpen at the very end of the job. There are a couple of reasons for this rule. Firstly, if the ingredients are over sharpened to begin with, there is very little you can do to correct the problem and it’s most frustrating. Also image sizes may not be exactly determined until the end of the job as you search for what’s aesthetically most appealing, so it would be hard to know just how much sharpness or softness is required.
When all was ready, the final image was built out at 1220 pixels per inches (res 48) to a Tiff file in RGB colour space for output to transparency film on an LVT Saturn high end film recorder at Prolab in Brisbane, Queensland.
THINK ABOUT IT
A few words about sharks. These are Grey Nurse Sharks which, so far as I’m aware, have never attacked a person…. while millions of sharks are eaten each year by humans. So you see it’s not the sharks that are truly dangerous… food for thought.